The University of Louisville last week placed men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave over his alleged role in a scheme to funnel $100,000 to the family of a coveted recruit, and while Pitino’s contract reportedly affords him a chance to rebut the allegations against him, the school’s intention was clear: When asked whether the school was “cleaning house,” interim school president Gregory Postel said “that’s effectively what we’re doing.”
That housecleaning has officially begun, and it’s shaping up to be quite a mess. On Monday, the University of Louisville Athletic Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to begin the process of terminating Pitino’s contract for cause. Pitino’s attorney, meanwhile, served the school with a letter accusing Louisville officials of breach of contract, according to WDRB, maintaining that the school didn’t properly notify Pitino and didn’t give him a chance to respond to the allegations against him when it placed him on leave.
There are two issues at play here. One is the process by which Louisville placed Pitino on leave with the intention of firing him. WDRB reports that the coach’s contract contains a clause that says the school must give Pitino 10 days’ written notice of its reasons for firing him or placing him on leave, and that Pitino must be allowed to present evidence in response. The former apparently has happened: Pitino was given a letter telling him that he was being placed on administrative leave with 10 days’ pay on Wednesday, the day he was suspended.
The other issue involves how much salary Pitino is or will be owed, and the gulf between the sides is sizable. Postel said Monday the school is responsible only for “10 days additional salary” from the day Pitino was placed on leave, which according to ESPN’s Myron Medcalf amounts to $11,800. Postel is clinging to this notion because the allegations made against Pitino “constitute material violations of your Employment Contract,” according to the letter that was given to him by the school. In other words, Louisville wants to fire Pitino for cause and owe him nothing more than the money it will pay him while on administrative leave.
Pitino’s side seems likely to argue otherwise. Because the coach has not been accused of an NCAA violation, his attorneys seem poised to argue that he is owed the entire $44 million remaining on his contract, which was extended through the 2025-26 season in 2015.
According to the contract, the school can fire Pitino without buying out the remaining years on his contract for the following reasons:
— “Disparaging media publicity of a material nature that damages the good name and reputation of Employer of the University, if such publicity is caused by Employee’s willful misconduct that could objectively be anticipated to bring Employee into public disrepute or scandal, or which tends to greatly offend the public.”
— “Major violation of any rule, or bylaw of Employer, the athletic conference with which the University is then affiliated or the NCAA …”
— “Employee’s (a) dishonesty with Employer or University, (b) acts of moral depravity, (c) conviction of a felony or employment- or drug-related misdemeanor …”
Whether Pitino’s alleged conduct rose to that level — in other words, whether Louisville owes him $11,800 or $44 million — almost certainly will be a matter for the courts to decide.